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I recently spent a hot and humid few days in Charlotte (Mecklenburg County!), North Carolina, which was hosting the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual convention.

Vince Nicoletti, the Building Chief from one of our great customers, San Diego County, was asked to share his department’s experience around online solar permitting at NACo’s Technology & Innovation Summit. Vince was also part of the San Diego County team that was being honored by NACo with an award for its Process Improvement Team (“The PIT crew”).

San Diego County might be a leading indicator for the rapid growth that we’re expecting to see for residential solar in the coming years — the County has seen a 300 percent increase in requests for solar permits in five years and expects to issue 6,000 in 2015. Many attribute this spike to the ownership arrangements now available that clear away the hefty upfront costs of installation. Sure, it’s also sunny in San Diego, but as data from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) has shown, it’s not just sunny states that are seeing rapid solar growth.

The 2014 top ten list for per capita solar capacity was: Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Delaware, Massachusetts, Colorado and North Carolina. Go look up the sunniest places in America… NJ, DE and MA are not on the list. Solar experts attribute the density of solar in these states to strong net metering and interconnection policies, as well as strong renewable energy standards and the availability of financing options. The point: if your community hasn’t already seen a significant increase in requests for residential solar permits, my bet is that it’s coming soon.

The thing that I love about the solar permitting story, and that San Diego County’s experience perfectly exemplifies, is that it’s a government technology story where a lot of diverse stakeholders win. 


San Diego County’s Building Chief Vince Nicoletti shares the benefits of streamlining the
County’s solar permitting process during NACo’s Technology & Innovation Summit.

Obviously the solar companies LOVE online solar permitting. They are high-volume, repeat customers pulling permits for nearly identical projects every day of the year, which makes them great candidates for an online option. Yet, in most locations around the country, they are spending lots of money for their employees (or permit runners) to drive down to City Hall or the County offices to stand in line for hours.

Every single major solar stakeholder — from the solar companies and green energy non-profits to the Department of Energy and many Governors’ Offices trying to meet ambitious green energy numbers — is working to streamline the solar permitting process to encourage the rollout of renewable energy. (Check out the DOE’s SunShot Initiative or California’s Solar Permitting Guidebook.)

Despite all this collective firepower pushing for streamlined solar permitting, the permits — whether they are for a rooftop solar system, new building, HVAC system, water heater, parade or fireworks display — are issued by our nation’s cities and counties.

I’m sure Vince and his team in San Diego County appreciate that by making the solar permitting process easier the County is helping drive down the cost of solar in their community, which could further speed the deployment of solar — which could in turn give the local economy a little bump, help San Diego become a “greener” place to live and save the planet! But I’m guessing Vince and his team didn’t set out to save the planet – they just wanted to get ahead of the growing customer service lines and wait times they were seeing at the County’s Planning & Development Services Department.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out this video where Vince goes into more detail about what they did.


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